National Bridge State Park/ Red River Gorge

National Bridge State Park/ Red River Gorge

Summer kind of got away from us this year. The kids were involved in baseball/softball until mid July and then I was trying to squeeze in a “laid back summer” for the rest of the weeks. I’m sure this will come as no surprise to you, but a forced laid back summer didn’t feel so laid back and so it was that Zach recommended we take a family camping trip before school started.

During the school year I can sometimes fool myself into believing we have our stuff together because the kids are gone at school for most of the day and then activities at night. But summer? Oh summer comes at ya with all the problems and issues that have been pushed down or run over from the crazy of the school year.

I think particularly with our babes who have suffered trauma-the unscheduled-ness of summer can sometimes be really scary for them. Scary for them often means intense parenting for the mamas and the papas.

All this to say, our camping trip came just at the right time. Our plan was to head to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan but a few days before we were to leave we noticed it was supposed to be 60 degrees with 90% chance of rain so I we made the executive decision to try the National Bridge State Park in Kentucky instead.

It had been a few years since we last went camping and, since then, have adopted a plant based lifestyle so I was a little nervous about what exactly we would eat for our 4 day vacation in nature. More on that later…

 

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The kids are now of ages where they can put up the tent by themselves while I organize/read my book. It is bliss.

We arrived much later than I was hoping so part of dinner was prepared by flashlight. Fajitas (sautéed on my new pan. I physically danced when this little lady and her dutch oven sister were delivered to my door.)

Vegan Fajitas

Onions, peppers, garlic, zucchini, squash. Buy the refrigerated tortillas at Costco, they are so good and have only 5 ingredients! We added guac and salsa for obvious reason.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day called for oats with almond milk and honey. Cooked to perfection and overwhelming praise by all. So easy, so delicious.

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Our first hike was up to the National Bridge. I had forgotten my nice camera but remembered my selfie stick so not all hope was lost.

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Even though we live at a camp in the middle of beautiful wilderness, it’s so easy to take for granted just how beautiful nature is. When you’re on a hike with no distractions other than your 5 children playing an adorable game of follow the leader and your husband’s calves flexing in the sexiest way possible-it’s easy to be reminded just how big and beautiful this world is.

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Dailah was often behind the other kids just chatting with Z and me. At one point she turned to me and remarked, “I think I’ve been talking the whole time we’ve been walking mom!” And then carried on before I could give her confirmation to the fact. She may look like her daddy but I suppose there’s a piece of me in there somewhere. 😉

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The lead up to the natural bridge was a teeny tiny staircase. Hiking with Binyam is no different than hiking with other children until we get to cliffs and tiny spaces. He stumbles often in his walking, so every stumble is a little bigger of a risk and my anxiety tends to get a little out of hand. I don’t think he knows I feel this way as I usually overcompensate the fear with effusive love, praise and picture taking.

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The top of the bridge is just gorgeous, both the views and the actual physical bridge.

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I posted this picture on Facebook and the commentors had a great time trying to find Binyam. He’s there, but he blends in perfectly with the foliage.

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Zach taught the kids how to safely get to the side of a cliff to look down and I sat down in the center and shit my pants prayed.

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Tariku was pouting about something or other, I was a safe distance away from the side and Dailah had found a rock to climb. But I loved this shot of Z and 3 of his boys.

I love all things yoga and meditation and when I’m in nature, it always inspires me to move my body in a way that reflects that. Natarajasana (Dancer pose) is one of my favorites because of all of the angles it creates, plus it just feels awesome.

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It could be said that sarcasm is our family’s love language and so when that’s the case, it comes as no surprise to find one son meditating on a rock during the hike and another imitating my love of yoga. I love all the things- their budding senses of humor in particular.

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From the natural bridge we could see another cliff (over Zach’s shoulder in the shot of the two of us) that the kids wanted to check out as well so off we went.

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We didn’t get a whole lot of sleep the night before so we headed back for some lunch/naps.

Lunch was veggie burgers and some grillin’ beans. Zach bought himself 6 cans of these things and I think we ate every one. It is legit the only time we eat baked beans but there is certainly something about the taste the open fire gives them. (Make sure you get the vegetarian/vegan kind. Most have some sort of pork in them so check the label!)

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Zach and Dailah chatting in the hammock during chill time.

Have I mentioned how much more relaxing camping is when your kids can also start fires? This is particularly enjoyable when I have a book that I can’t put down. (Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s a must read, truly.)

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The next morning I did a tofu scramble for breakfast with a little tofu, garlic, cayenne pepper, turmeric, nutritional yeast, spinach and tomatoes. Mmmmm might need to make that tonight…

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That morning we hiked a trail close to our campsite. It was a decently strenuous hike that was much longer and higher than the previous day’s but one that I preferred. Took us over an hour to be able to see the sun through the trees so everything was lush and gorgeous.

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I’m not actually leaning against the tree behind me, this was kind of a tricky pose on the fallen tree. I jumped down and Dailah asked, “Isn’t it so fun to be a kid again?” It is. It really, really is.

We had to descend pretty quickly as we had a kayak/canoe trip down the Red River around lunch. When we got to the campsite I couldn’t help but smile, what a lovely thing it is to be with the ones I love-all of our needs met so simply.

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We were warned by an older couple who took a liking to our kids that the water level was low in the gorge so we might be in for some pulling of our various boats but we Zach decided to soldier on. Dailah wanted in with me and I enthusiastically agreed, forgetting momentarily that when Dailah decides she’s over something there is not a human alive who can talk her into engaging. The first few minutes were pure bliss though.

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We arrived at the water hole with a cliff just perfect for jumping. I’ve had many opportunities to go cliff jumping in my day and I’ve declined each and every invitation for I imagine the same reasons Dailah stopped rowing 5 minutes into our excursion-it just didn’t appeal to me. I’ve never loved heights, nor has anyone accused me of being a risk taker in the traditional sense. I typically like my 2 feet planted firmly on land, thankyouverymuch. But I try really hard to be an ever evolving person, letting go of the things that no longer serve me, and fear of cliff jumping seemed like one of those things I could let go of.

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On the way back, it was decided I would be canoeing home with Binyam (the three bigs all had their own kayak)-which makes the most sense since together we have virtually 0 experience canoeing. Ahem.

You know where this is going…we hit some rapids and when I told Binyam to duck to avoid a tree branch he took that to mean grab on to that branch like your little one precious life depends on it. Next thing I knew, I was ducking to avoid my child and grabbing him down from the tree at the same time while our canoe tipped over. Binyam freaks in the face of most things and so when I stood up the first thing I saw was his big, beautiful eyes peaking out from the water with a look of sheer panic. It took what felt like 42 minutes to convince him to stand up as the water was shallow enough for him to touch. Bless.

It ended up being a really fun 4 hours. We were basically the only people on the water so we could take our time admiring the beauty of the gorge.

Probably one of my favorite parts of camping is sleeping all in one tent. When Zach initially wanted to get into family camping my one condition was that we all sleep together. Oh and air mattress, I wanted to be sleeping on one of those.

Going to sleep and waking up next to the kids is so fun, in particular because our bedroom at home is a child free space. The only time you’ll see a child in our room is if they are 1) sick or 2) sick. And even then, there better be puke somewhere or you can just figure it out on your own. Kidding, kind of. Maybe it’s because I created that sanctuary when my kids were so little that I can now appreciate the moments when we’re all together. Sure I don’t sleep as well because Tomas yells in his sleep and a few others are loud breathers/snorers but I can’t beat waking up to this sight.

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On the way home our van officially hit 80,000 miles. It is 3 years old. You do the math here, there is a lot of love and miles lived in our minivan. I love adventures and if there is one thing I hope my kids take from me it’s that-travel, travel, travel. And pay off your cars as soon as you can so that you never believe there’s risk in getting that mile ticker to go higher.

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Weekending

Since we’ve moved to Michigan at the end of April we haven’t had a weekend without visitors. Have I mentioned how lucky we are to have so many family and friends willing and able to make the trip up to see us? Last weekend the Klipsch contingency arrived with my two brothers-in-law, their wives and children. This weekend marked the arrival of my parents and our good Bajun friend, Marlo. I would say the theme for each weekend is “eat too much, drink too much and stay up way past my bedtime.” But I really wouldn’t have it any other way.

The weather here has been so beautiful. Hasn’t gotten so hot that we can’t be outside yet (does it get that way in MI?) so we are taking advantage of every moment!

My kids are finally at an age where they love “competitive tubing”. No more of that drive slow and stay straight boring stuff. 😉 My entire childhood was spent challenging siblings and friends to tube battles so it feels like the best kind of deja vu to now have my kiddos doing the same.

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Though the older kids were mostly unseen because of all the excitement at being together again, we did get some QT in with the littler cousins. I kind of can’t help but gush about my nephews and nieces. It’s just that they are so incredible.

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I also can’t get enough of watching Zach and his brothers together. I hope beyond hope my boys are able to have as much fun as Z and his brothers do as they get older.

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I recovered from their visit on Thursday, which is exactly when our friend Marlo showed up. 🙂 Saturday we went right out on the lake. Though Zach is a great boat driver it’s just really hard to beat my dad-the man with 30 years of experience! And I must tell you my world got a little more perfect when I sat in a boat with my dad as the driver. So many memories of my childhood involved my dad driving the boat while we tubed and skied/wake boarded so imagine my delight at recreating that magic! I even brushed off the wake boarding skills and went for a few runs.

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Dailah HATES tubing. Thankfully she’s got a mom who will not be raising a daughter to just sit around and sun bathe while all the dudes are out enjoying life. 😉 We negotiated and I allowed her the request to have her daddy ride with her. Daddies have a way of making us feel safe and loved don’t they?

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Then Dailah hopped off (not true, my dad actually dumped her and Z) and it was back to competitive tubing for Marlo and Z.

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I also force encourage all of my kids to wakeboard/ski when it’s time. Yesterday was the first day that all of them got up (except Trysten who gave it a good D effort. 😉 )

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Last night ended with some card games, cigars and drinks on our covered porch while the rain came down. It was absolute perfection. (You know you are a yogi when you tell your son to get down in the front and he does this. Oh Trysten.)

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Hope your summer weekends have been just as full of love and laughter!

School’s out for summer!

School’s out for summer!

Today my 5 officially finished their school year. Though I was thankful Michigan went longer than Iowa when we decided to move because it gave them longer to make good friends before the summer, I was getting pretty bored at home the last week or so and was itchin’ to have all my babes at home with me during the day!

This was them on their first day of school this year. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th graders.

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And today. Officially 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th graders.

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Truth be told I think our various graduations now celebrated (preschool, kindergarten, 5th grade, 8th grade, etc) are a little overzealous. I think we can all agree it doesn’t take much for our kids to graduate preschool and kindergarten, right? 5th grade is still a little goofy if you ask me, there just doesn’t seem to be anything special about graduating 5th grade/elementary school. That said, I do believe Trysten is special and so I was totally ok with getting to see him in his element on his last day of elementary school. 😉

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He was one of the main reasons we decided to move towards the end of the school year. I wanted to make sure he would have enough time to make some friends before heading into the twilight zone that is middle school. And man did he. The male 5th grade teacher gives out candy awards every year to the 5th graders. He picks different candies that fit the personalities of each kid. Trysten got M&M because he’s “Magnificent and majestic and he just oozes cool.” Any mom can tell you it’s so nice hearing your kid accurately described by teachers. It means the teacher has taken the time (in this case just a month!) to really get to know my kid and my kids trusts that teacher enough to show the real him. That’s a pretty big deal.

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Afterwards we had to go for ice cream to celebrate summer, for obvious reason.

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I am just incredibly proud of all 5 of them. Some have to work so, so hard day in and day out to keep pace with their peers and they do it. Of course there are tears once in awhile but those are mostly just from me. 😉

My favorite story from their new school was from a teacher. I was talking to her on one of Dailah’s field trips and she said, “You know I just have to tell you, coming here has been a really big deal for A (Dailah’s best friend). Before Dailah moved here A would get kind of picked on because she’s just quiet and sweet and never really stood up for herself. But Dailah doesn’t let that happen to her and in turn A has gained this whole new level of confidence we had never seen from her. On top of that, everyone in the school knows if they mess with one Klipsch or any friends of the Klipschs the others will be there to help out so A falls under that Klipsch umbrella too.”

I freaking love that. And I freaking love them. Off to hang with that ragamuffin gang I call my children.

Tiny Revolution

Today (Dailah’s 7th birthday) we were in the main lodge at camp for breakfast. Every few minutes a camp counselor would come up to Dailah, pick her up and twirl her around, whisper something in her ear and then put her back down. She always came away from these experiences with a really big grin.

Multiple times a day I recognize how blessed we are to live at camp. Though it certainly has its drawbacks, there are far too many good things that outweigh those less than optimal things.

Zach will often come home with stories about specific counselors. Things they have been through in their lives, hardships they have overcome. I’m constantly surprised by these stories because to me these beautiful people are just part of our camp family.

It occurred to me the other reason I was surprised these young adults were sometimes the kids in school who felt out of place is because camp is a place where the ragamuffins all feel welcome. As I looked around the lodge I saw people from every gender (including one transexual), race and nationality. We have tattooed people, the super religious, gay/lesbian/bisexual, long hair and short hair. We have the choir peeps and the jocks. The sorority/fraternity and the bookworm. And though they have their fair share of squabbles they all coexist in this amazing space of love and acceptance.

Zach told me at one of his supervisor meetings they were discussing dress codes and had settled on a basic uniform. Then he said, “Look, I think this makes sense for the other Y’s. It looks professional and welcoming. If you want us to do that at camp, I absolutely will. But at camp we are different. We like that about each other. These counselors come to camp because they are loved for all of their uniquenesses. That extends from their hair to their piercings to the way they dress. I don’t want that to go away because I think the kids that come to camp can sense that. I think they see our counselors and know that this might be the only place in the world where they fit in. So I’ll do what you ask here but I’m hopeful you’ll let that continue.”

Perhaps that’s what I love most about camp. I see a teenage male wearing a makeshift cape to camp and no one teasing him for it. I read the notes from campers to counselors thanking them for making them feel loved beyond anything they had previously experienced, I read the Father’s Day card to Zach from a teenage girl who had never known the love of a dad until Zach “Maverick” came into her life.

Because I’m not in the thick of the day-to-day operations (that can often bog down and make one forget the experiences of camp) I get to stand in awe of the powerful transformations that happen in both counselor and camper. I get to think about and pray for these counselors who become my children’s aunties and uncles for months (sometimes years!) at a time. Once in awhile I even get to lament the fact that I was never able to experience these same things when I was their age.

But my overwhelming feeling is that of gratitude that there is a place for us all.  I love knowing that there are still pockets of our culture that celebrate differences rather than judge them. And I am so grateful I live here and am a witness to it every day.

So grateful my ragamuffin family lives in a community where we are accepted and are part of a tiny revolution of people trying to love the previously felt unloveable.

Is anybody alive out there?

can anyone hear me?

10 points to who knows what movie that’s from.

Anyway, hello again. It’s me. I feel a little bit like I should reintroduce myself to you all.

In a lot of ways the last months away from the blog (and really a lot of social media in general) has been kind of liberating. I have noticed a difference in the amount of time I’m present with the family when I don’t have internet access at home. It was really nice.

That said, I still don’t have internet and now that the kids are at school during the day it’d be super if we had it. 🙂

Now I’m trying to figure out if it’s best to just start from today or try to tell you all that’s been going on since last we spoke. How about a few pictures from this summer to tide you over?

We got to go to the Mehaber!!! Though we’d been before it had been 4 years so we were due. And there were just too many people going that I wanted to see for me to come up with any valid excuses.

Amanda was so generous in letting my entire family (sans Zach, who can never make it what with a camp full of kids and all) move in.

If there is a girl around, Dailah will hone in on her and stalk her like prey. Sometimes I feel so sad for her that she has no one to make bracelets with. Samry was AMAZING at playing with Dailah and doing whatever she wanted.

We got to stop at Amanda’s parents’ house that happens to be beautiful and lakeside. The kids were in hog heaven there.

Love “catching” them when they aren’t posing.

This was their faces watching Ethiopian musicians perform. Hilarious.

We ate delicious, delicious Ethiopian food! My kids were so incredibly happy.

We got to see people we traveled with too! Agiro and Twedros treated Tariku like their little brother in Ethiopia. It was so fun to see them all together again.

We also learned how to make injera (plug: you NEED that book! It’s essential if you want any hope of successfully making injera. This amazing lady taught me that. I bet you can find out how to order the book there too? But look at Dailah’s injera! It’s in the shape of an Africa! Amazing!

Speaking of her, there she is in the green. And Cathy. I’ve mentioned Cathy before. I’ll mention her later too. Of course I go to the Mehaber to keep the kids in touch with their Ethiopian roots but seeing some of my favorite people is a really big motivator as well. I got to meet Kim too (no idea how no picture was taken, alas…). She is doing a ridiculously great job with those boys of hers. We needed more time!

It was hot. So. so. so. hot.

Those of you in the adoption world would be so jealous of the people I got to travel with when we picked up Tariku. We traveled with these guys too. This family is really just too beautiful.

My Bean

There was a station where women would write your names in Amharic. Fun.

Cathy was able to come over to Amanda’s afterwards and bring her kids. We are soul sisters. Sometimes I feel like that’s all that needs to be said. Also, she should move to the midwest, that should also be said.

When I went to Cathy’s in Colorado I couldn’t get over how much her oldest reminded me of my oldest. Some of my favorite moments in Colorado were when I was talking to Carver about life because I could imagine having the same conversations with Trysten in a few years. They met and, well, Trysten is still talking about him.

Amanda. She took on 5 kids and this hair. Come on, she’s amazing.

We stayed up way too late every night. I think this picture of Dailah was at about 10:00pm. She was delirious and hungry.

The crew. Tariku and Teshome (right next to Tariku) were besties in Ethiopia. Every time I think of their relationship I get tears in my eyes. It is a priceless, priceless thing for him.

This was everyone (but me) for almost the entire 6 hours home. We were exhausted.

This is my favorite picture I’ve taken of my favorite people I took all summer (maybe thus far all year?)

The big 3 went to resident camp again this year. Trysten was in his own cabin away from his brothers for the first time. I can’t tell you how good it was for him to just be Trysten and not be the oldest brother. But ugh, it was rough on me this year.

And these two? Had so much fun. Tariku still struggled with re-entry (more on that later) but otherwise they just can’t wait until next summer.

Their counselors…Nacho, you’ve heard me talk about him (far right) is the best at what he does, there really is no comparison. And this year they got Optimus too who was just as attentive and wonderful.

Trysten was with 2 British guys, which is exactly where a Harry Potter-lovin’ guy like himself wants to be (he’s just like his mom, amiright?) But seriously, they were everything I could want in counselors for my boy.

 Those were the pictures I had ready on my computer. Nevermind that they are a few months old.

But I figured out a way to blog more so you’ll hear more from me. I promise. Off to read the blogs I’ve missed since my absence. Love and hugs.

where we’ve been

Binyam got fitted for a brand new foot brace. His left foot is as perfect as it’s going to get, but the right one still has a kidney bean shape. Because of that his foot is often sore at the end of the day. The orthaped doc thought this brace should help the situation until his next surgery (when he’s done growing, so we have awhile). 

Family picture. Come on, love them so much.

Until last year my parents owned a house on a lake. It was awesome. It’s been a little weird not having that to go to this summer but a few weeks ago they took the boat out on to another lake. Dailah hit her stride immediately.

Here’s a little factoid about me, I was originally born in a town called Pleasantville. Seriously. And they have an amazing pizza place. Hadn’t been for many years but I was able to take my kids there a few weeks back and it was just so cool. Something about those moments of full circle that I love.

Love going to my parents’ house. Because they are so good about doting on my kids that I get to put my feet up and just revel in their joy without thinking about how many loads of laundry I’ll have to do when they’re done.

The kids and I headed to my parents house for a week of camps. The 4 boys had wrestling camp (which Trysten and Tariku loved, the other two felt “eh” about it).

That same week we also took the kids to an old school ice cream shoppe. Felt like we were going back 50 years (in a good way). Delicious soft serve ice cream. Tomas hates ice cream so he got a slushie instead which insisted was the best ever.

The same week of wrestling camp was art camp. These 4 got to participate in that. It was really, really cool.

Dailah made this self portrait.

Tomas’s (if you look closely you’ll see he made himself into a hot air balloon with his head being the balloon. Love it.

Trysten chose to make a comic strip instead. It’s pretty rad.

And because Trysten chose it, so did Tariku. Another rad comic strip.

We got to dog sit one of my friends’ dogs. It was a small dog. We are used to only big dogs. She was really cute, especially when we decided to put her in a costume.

Lots of baseball games. Abe came with us to the last one, which he loved. (Pic by Dailah)

The kids’ team. They didn’t have a real winning season but they learned a lot and had such good kids/coaches. Couldn’t ask for anything more.

The boys with 2 of their coaches (dad and grandpa).

While the kids were at camp (more on that later) I got to have long lunches with friends. I am so, so blessed by these relationships.

The hubby of my friend Chrissy got promoted to Lt that week so we went to a party store and decorated the crap out of their house. Totally fun.

 Oh, did I leave a cliffhanger last time? Ok, I promise next blog. 🙂

y’all

life is good.

My sister said to me the other day, “So…you just gonna blog once a month now or what?”

It’s never my intention, obviously, I love this little space. Where I get to write about whatever I want and connect in whatever small way I do with all of you.

But life has been good. It’s been busy. Not in the way that we’re 400 places in a day or constantly on the move but in the, “I haven’t taken a hike and caught helpless frogs for a couple hours, let’s go do that” kind of way.

Which is definitely my favorite kind of way to be “busy”.

The 3 bigs are currently playing Monopoly, Dailah and Bean are playing Barbies and cars respectively and I’m watching with a quiet grin. Thinking about how much I wanted to share all this with someone, with you.

I was thinking today on the way back home from Des Moines about all of the growth people see in their lifetime. I was comparing myself 10 years ago, 5 years ago, even 2 years ago to myself now and I couldn’t believe how different I am now. I remembered how I thought I knew everything then, that I had it figured out and how now I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface of all I want to know. I have days where I don’t want to go to bed because I want to stay up learning, and living and loving. Are there enough moments in the day for all of that? Sometimes it feels like there most definitely aren’t.

I was thinking about how I have some amazing friends in my life. I used to be one who just wanted the most amount of friends. Not so I could look around and say, “Wow, look at how awesome I am with all of these friends” but rather so that I could tell each one a little something but never have just 1 that knew everything about me. It felt safer that way. But I do now. I have friends who know everything about me and holy sh*t they still love me, that’s a pretty amazing. I’m sure you all figured this out before me, but life is much fuller when you have these kinds of relationships.

Of all my sweet babies Tariku still struggles the most. More on this later but I think constantly about him and how much I wish things were different for him. That I wish brokenness and poverty and suffering weren’t part of the picture for anyone in the world.

I’m reading a book called, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, How we can learn to fulfill our potential”. Long title, interesting read so far. Now, I don’t care much about “success” or not the general definition we Americans usually refer to it by but this book interests me a lot because it talks about a fixed mindset compared to a growth mindset. It’s got me thinking about what we tell ourselves. The lies and truths about who we are, who we think we are and who we talk ourselves into being. We start young, if my kids are any indication, and various people throughout our lives can affect the way we see all of that. It’s made me even more aware of the power of words, how a subtle difference between “wow, you’re really good at that!” or “my goodness, you worked really hard at that!” can change the way we view success. Good stuff. Still have some unpacking to do with that.

My hair: have some really good thoughts on my hair. It’s all feminist rant right now so I’ll save that for when I have a slightly clearer head. 😉

Next weekend we are Mehaber bound. Very excited to see some good friends and sad to hear some aren’t able to make it. Let me know if you’ll be there and we’ll figure out a way to meet!

Exciting news coming. More on that later too. 🙂